*2015 Shore Conference Football Preview Homepage*

Progress was made last season for Point Boro on the heels of a rare losing season, and now with most of their team returning, the Panthers are banking on turning hardship into hardware.

“We got banged up as 15-year-olds going up against 18-year-olds when we were sophomores, so now we’re going to come out banging and really give people a run for their money,” said senior Nate Husak.

The Panthers came back from a 1-9 season in 2013 to go 5-5 last season, making tangible steps toward re-emerging as a championship contender. They did so with a group of juniors that was forced to see the field as sophomores, and while they took their lumps during that one-win campaign they feel they’ve laid the ground work for a return to the top.

“The biggest thing two years ago was we were throwing little boys out to the fire, and they’re seniors now,” said head coach Sean Henry. “It was a learning experience so we were content being 5-5, but at the same time unhappy with the way it ended.”

Point Boro fell 28-7 to Monmouth Regional in an NJSIAA consolation game.

“We’re hoping all the sacrifices we made two years ago will pay off this year,” Henry added.

Statistically, the Panthers were a top-five defense in the Shore Conference last season, allowing 13.6 points per game in their 3-5-3 stack. They will look to build off that success with eight returning starters under defensive coordinator Matt Cilento. Six of the front eight are returning starters with junior Aidan Connolly at nose guard and seniors Gavin Hynes and Dom Infante at defensive end.

Nate Husak is the starter at middle linebacker, moving over from outside linebacker.

Cawley, also a returning starter, is their “dog” linebacker, and the “rover” will be either junior Justin Rafi or senior Brandon DeFeo. The “snakes,” which are outside linebacker/strong safety hybrids in Point Boro’s scheme, are both returning starters in seniors Gene Franceschini and Austin Drucquer.

In the secondary, senior Mike Waddleton, a returning starter, and junior Kyler Rossi are the cornerbacks and senior Devin Connelly is the safety.

“Having eight starters back on defense is huge,” Henry said. “Defensive coordinator Matt Cilento does a great job. We’re committed to this defense and the kids have now been in the system for a few years. We feel like we have a front that can give teams fits and a secondary we’re confident in. They were great all last year so having the kids back makes you excited.”

“We’ve been playing this defense for three years now,” Franceschini said. “Last year we were pretty good but were still thinking about what to do. This year I think we’ll just be reacting and recognizing a lot quicker.”

An experienced backfield will fuel Point Boro's flexbone option rushing attack. (Photo by Bob Badders).

The Panthers’ trademark for many years has been their punishing flexbone option offense, and they will continue to bring that grinding style with seven returning starters.

The entire backfield returns with Nate Husak at “A” back and Connelly and Franceschini as the slot backs. Noah Husak takes over as the starting quarterback. He started on defense at safety last season and also started a few games at quarterback.

“It was good having (last season’s quarterback) Jack (Fitzsimmons) to help me,” Noah Husak said. “He was a great mentor. Our record didn’t reflect how good he was. He helped me out a lot and the offense is really coming to me easier. Moving forward I’m a lot more confident in myself.”

“He’s a first-year starter as a senior but he does have some games under his belt,” Henry said. “The biggest thing with Noah and his brother Nate is they’re both huge weight room kids. They did it the right way in the weight room and earned the respect of the kids. (Noah) is very athletic and he throws a little better than some of the kids we’ve had.

“Obviously we’re going to run the ball but we have the ability to take some long shots off play action. It’s his football team and he’s ran with that. He’s a great leader on and off the field.”

In addition to having an experienced backfield, Point Boro also has a pair of legitimate threats in the receiving game with junior Hayden Frey and Waddleton. Frey caught four touchdown passes and averaged 19 yards per reception as a sophomore.

“I’m not a huge 7-on-7 guy but watching (Frey) without the pads going up and being physical and seeing his improved ball skills is encouraging,” Henry said. “And Waddleton is a 6-foot-1 basketball kid, so having those two guys on the edge opens things up for us.”

“Everyone will look at us as a running team, but with Waddleton and Frey we can really throw the ball downfield,” Franceschini said. “It opens up the playbook.”

The offensive line has two returning starters with senior Doug Meslar at left tackle and Infante at center. The left guard is senior Dan Daber, the right guard is Connolly and the right tackle is senior Sam Livolsi.

With a defense that looks to be even better than last season, Point Boro knows that if its offense can improve on its average of 17.1 points per game it will right where it wants to be.

Senior Nate Husak (right) takes over as the Panthers' starting quarterback in their flexbone option offense. (Photo by Bob Badders).

Senior Kyle Ansbach returns as the starting kicker and punter. As a junior he was a perfect 18-for-18 on extra points and converted three field goals, including a long of 36.

Point Boro has already put its 1-9 season in the rearview mirror, and after climbing back to .500 last season the Panthers are ready to take a much bigger step.

“This is a group of high-character kids that do it the right way,” Henry said. “They’ve learned and they’re hungry. For this year, that 1-9 season is probably the best thing that could have happened to us.”

“We don’t want to be a 5-5 team - we don’t think we’re average,” Franceschini said. “We want to get back to the playoffs, and we think we can be a state championship contender.”

 

Head coach: Sean Henry, 6th season.

Career record: 20-25.

Assistant coaches: Matt Cilento (def. coord./QB); Tom Orrok (Pass game coord./DB); Ryan Canary (OL/DL); Shane O’Connor (RB/DB); Dan Drzymkowski (RB/DL); Dave Drew, Pat Brady (freshmen); Brian Grainer (video); John Madden (athletic trainer).

2014 Record: 5-5 (5-2).

 

BIG SHOES TO FILL: Noah Husak, Sr., QB

Husak takes over at starting quarterback for the graduated Jack Fitzsimmons to lead the Panthers' flexbone option rushing attack.

X-FACTOR: The offensive line

The Panthers have the talent and experience at the skill positions, so a solid offensive line could put them over the top and produce a potent offense.

GLUE GUY: Gene Franceschini, Sr., RB/LB

A three-year starter on both sides of the ball, Franceschini figures to be an impact playmaker as a slot back and on defense as a linebacker/strong safety.

IMPACT NEWCOMER: Kyler Rossi, Jr., CB

One of just four juniors who will start for Point Boro, Rossi takes over as a starter in the secondary and looks to help the Panthers remain a top defense.

PIVOTAL GAME: October 9 at Central

Central shared the Class B South division title last season with Barnegat and returns 2,000-yard rusher Mike Bickford and dynamic quarterback Mike Miserendino, so if the Panthers are going to claim the division crown this year they will likely have to take down the Golden Eagles on the road.